MBAs – Are Your Teams Loaded with Maximizers or Satisficers?

ID-10034797A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article on how people make decisions caught my attention, not because of the headline or topic but because of the number of Tweets – more than four thousand. This seemed like a large number for a “Life and Culture” section article in the WSJ. However, after reading the article, I could see why – it focused on couples and how their decision styles can affect their relationship and happiness. Changing the focus from social to work, I want to suggest that decision styles can also play a role in the relationships of people working in teams or work groups.

The reality is that not every member of a team or workgroup is happy performing with the people with whom they are assigned to work. Unfortunately, many MBA students and MBA alumni find themselves in this situation at some point during their MBA program or during their career. While there are a number of factors that determine happiness in a work environment, a differing decision style could be the proverbial burr under the saddle that is the irritant which contributes to a low level of friction among certain co-workers within the team or work group. If left unchecked, the resulting tension and frustration can affect the performance of everyone involved. Happily, an understanding of decision styles can help manage the situation so that performance is not adversely affected.

The WSJ article’s primary source was Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. In his book, Professor Schwartz identifies two basic decision styles – maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers prefer “to take their time and weigh a wide range of options—sometimes every possible one—before choosing.” They want one more option, one more piece of data, one more meeting, etc. – thinking the “one more” will lead to a better decision. They usually “make good decisions but feel [badly] about them.” More importantly, they can ”become paralyzed with indecision.” On the other hand, satisficers prefer to “be fast [rather] than thorough; they prefer to quickly choose the option that fills the minimum criteria.” To them, one more option, one more piece of data, one more meeting, etc. will not result in a better decision. Satisficers “make good decisions and feel good about them.” Generally, from a performance standpoint, neither maximizers nor satisficers make bad decisions and both have high standards.

However, when there is an imbalance in decision styles and there are more satisficers than maximizers, or vice versa, or when a dominate individual in the group exhibits behaviors that are clearly associated with one of the decision styles, there is the potential for relationships and team harmony to be adversely affected. Minimizing the adverse effect is key. While the actions one can take to minimize any of the adversities will vary by situation and the people involved, some things to consider include:

  • Fast vs. Slow – Remember, satisficers prefer quick decisions and maximizers want more time for decision-making. Good timeline and milestone management can help mitigate behaviors associated with the two decision styles. For example, use a milestone to force maximizers into making a decision rather than allowing them to become paralyzed with indecision.
  • Timeline Control – If allowed, maximizers will take control of timelines, albeit unintentionally because they want to consider one more option, gather one more piece of data or have one more meeting. One approach for dealing with this situation is to grant the maximizer permission to pursue, on his or her own, the one more option or the gathering of additional data – all of which can be shared at a subsequent, already-scheduled meeting.
  • Too Fast – Making decisions too fast can be an issue when satisficers are involved, and their tendencies to rush the decision process can cause problems. One approach is to schedule meeting times downstream to review each decision in order to help ensure that the group is not making decisions too quickly.
  • Post-decision Management – Generally, maximizers make good decisions, but they feel badly about any decision they make or are involved in making, which means they may need some type of positive reinforcement in order to keep them from feeling unfavorably. Help them understand that the decision resulted from a joint effort and that the decision is good, however imperfect it may be.

While the decision styles of the people with whom one is working may not be the sole determinant of an individual’s happiness or satisfaction with his or her work environment or situation, decision styles can play a role. Sometimes, and especially when there is an imbalance of decision styles in the work group, there can be tension and frustration among group members, which can then affect their performance. Awareness and proactive management may be the key to minimizing the adverse effects of decision styles on performance.

Can maximizers or satisficers really affect team performance? What do you think? Are there other things that you can recommend to the MyEMBA readers to help them proactively manage maximizers or satisficers? Please respond by making a comment below.

About the Author: Dr. Rodney G. Alsup is the creator of the MyeEMBA blog. His goal is to help MBAs live and work smarter.

Image courtesy of photostock /

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